On a frosty January day in Bergen, Private Detective Varg Veum is visited by a prostitute. Her friend Margrethe has disappeared and hasn't been seen for days. Before her disappearance, something had unsettled her: she'd turned away a customer and returned to the neighbourhood in terror. Shortly after taking the case, Veum is confronted with a brutal, uneasy reality. He soon finds the first body - and it won't be the last either. His investigation leads him into a dark subculture where corrupted idealism has had deadly consequences.
Like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, this entry in Staalesen's long-running Norwegian crime series featuring Bergen detective Varg Veum (Consorts of Death, etc.) examines issues of class prejudice, misplaced trust, and self-righteous exploitation. Prostitute Hege Jensen, a former schoolmate of Veum's son, hires the aging PI to find her friend and fellow prostitute, Maggi Monsen, who disappeared one night after turning down a customer. Veum discovers that Maggie was plagued by predatory pimps and potentially murderous johns, but Maggie's sad tale proves as nothing compared to the harm done by well-intentioned busybodies whose interventions transform terrible situations into ones unimaginably worse. Under pressure, Veum can skillfully dole out violence, but the essentially humane detective prefers methods that involve dialogue and deduction, investigation and intellect a welcome contrast to many in his line of work.